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Demented and incomprehensible (mostly but not entirely in a bad way), December 23, 2022
(This is a lightly-edited version of a review I posted to the IntFiction forums during 2022's IFComp).
Before you embark on a journey of revenge, says the proverb, dig two graves. It’s an admirably pithy way of foregrounding the corrosive effects of giving yourself over to the single-minded pursuit of vengeance, even if it does raise some practical questions (if you dig them before you leave on a journey, does that mean some poor schmuck of an undertaker has to haul two rapidly-moldering bodies all the way back to the graves? Seems inefficient!)
Sadly, I can’t tell you whether HOURS grapples with the psychological and logistical complexities raised by the adage, because bugs meant I failed in my quest to assassinate the Shogun of the game’s techno-magic empire; his legions of soldiers stymied me just for a moment, but “I need usable code to the right of =.” ended my journey right quick. I can relate that I did not excavate any tombs at the outset, and in fact launched into this quixotic adventure without much in the way of forethought at all. The protagonist is a soldier in the Shogun’s army (initially nameless, though later it’s revealed he’s called Jack so he probably should have stuck with him man-with-no-name schtick. At least he makes out better than the poor Shogun, whose parents called him Charlie) – sorry, lost the plot there for a moment, a soldier who’s told by a ghost that he’s gonna die, so he might as well assassinate his own leader.
Lest you think I’m bottom-lining this in too conclusory a fashion, here’s the passage in question:
According to an apparition you saw on the battlefield, you had less than a day to live.
“How?” you asked. After all, you didn’t feel any different from usual.
“It may not look like it, but it’s your injuries. You’ll die soon.”
(Jack is a master of JRPG-protagonist ellipses).
“You will die by dawn tomorrow.”
You pull an arrow from your arm and tear a piece of cloth off a corpse to use as a bandage.
“Nothing to say?”
(See? I told you!)
“Well, since you’ll die anyway… I have a little favour to ask of you in the last hours of your life. Could you help to assassinate the Shogun of your nation? I’ll keep you alive with magic until dawn, but that’s the most I can do.”
Jack is quickly teleported to the capital city, leaving him with only five hours to spare, so he immediately – rents a room in an inn (hopefully an option to invest in his 401(k) will be added to a post-Comp release). While you have the option to mope around until dawn kills you, you can also just march down to the Shogun’s castle and launch a frontal assault on his personal bodyguard of hardened mercenaries, which isn’t suicidal because Jack just remembered he has a magic sword that can kill people if you stab where they used to be – this makes for a badass fight scene though also makes me wonder why he doesn’t just head to the hospital where the Shogun was born and skip some steps. Anyway after interrogating the lone survivor about some heretofore-unmentioned magical soldiers, Jack heads to a slave auction where poor captives who seem to have X-Men style superpowers are tortured and sold to the highest bidder (I’m not sure what level of Econ Shogun Charlie got to in college, but his failure to establish a monopsony here feels like a major oversight). And then the aforementioned bug brought proceedings to a halt.
I’ve been making fun, but honestly, I was disappointed not to see where things ended. HOURS has the demented, incomprehensible energy of the kind of anime I occasionally was able to watch when I was a kid in the early 90s, where someone at school’s uncle’s cousin stayed up until midnight to tape a poorly-dubbed episode from two thirds of the way through the run of some show you’d never even heard of before and never would again, except the station wasn’t paying attention to the timings so it cut off right before the end so they could run a Thighmaster infomercial. I can’t say that it’s good, but I was carried along by its silly enthusiasm for a while, even as I was MST3king it in my head – and getting any kind of emotional response out of the audience is something a first-time author can be proud of. HOURS isn’t an especially auspicious starting point, no more so than a two-grave cemetery, but here’s hoping the author’s journey into IF creation comes to a better end than Jack’s quest did.
1 people found the following review helpful:
Kvetching Hour, November 26, 2022
Adapted from an IFCOMP22 Review
This work feels more incomplete than the ones I’ve reviewed to date. I don’t mean to sound patronizing, but it feels like the work of someone at the front end of their authorship. There are gaps kind of across the board: in concept, narrative, use of interactivity and coding. Everyone that writes has been here, where ideas are clamoring to get out, but the tools are still blunt and clumsy. Using them is the only way to hone!
Conceptually, the setting is an interesting (fuedal?) Japanese, military magic/mutant exploitation jam. Depending on choices, you get more or less of the background and all of it is loosely sketched. The looseness is not a problem per se. Sometimes you accomplish more with detailed hints that allow the reader to do some mental lifting to fill in the gaps. The danger is that if the reader lifts TOO much, and you subsequently contradict their mental image it is jarring. The trick is knowing where to proscribe and where to sketch. For me, the use of swords and historical Japanese vocabulary crashed in my head once guns were mentioned (but never employed?) Or when a prominent character’s name was revealed as (Spoiler - click to show)“Charlie.”
Narratively, the protagonist is initially presented as resisting the call, only to then acquiesce. Of course, this Campbellian Construct is deeply ingrained in popular storytelling. But it isn’t free. In particular, the Refusal is the least interesting part of the Journey and really requires some selling by the author. I mean, we WANT the adventure. The longer and less convincingly the protagonist resists, the more the reader rejects them. Conversely, if their acceptance does not organically refute this refusal, the character comes across as petulant which is not endearing either. There are other unsatisfying narrative choices, like the protagonist having exactly the tools needed in the moment, without foreshadowing or establishing shots. Again, tone could help sell this, but not here.
Interactivity is all but missing. I think there is exactly one narratively important choice the player can make, and one of the alternatives is unattractive and unsatisfying. Instead there are a series of choices presented that at best provide more backstory and at worst have no impact on the narrative at all. Now there are a lot of ways to use interactivity: to align the reader with protagonist, to give the player agency in the narrative, to provide mental and emotional puzzles to grapple with. None of these are at play here. It devolves to page turning, which effectively shines a brighter light on the Concept and Narrative.
Technically, there is a bug where one potentially impactful decision puts the game is a stuck state without resolution. (Spoiler - click to show)If you attempt to buy a slave (to save their life presumedly), you get stuck on a page with a “markup contains mistake, need usable code right of =” error. Elsewhere, a potential choice seems unimplemented and stalls until you make a different choice. With a game this small and linear, it is hard to understand how playtesting the entire decision tree was not done before release.
I honor the ambition of the effort. As a player, this is not engaging, but as a first step there is plenty to learn from and build on.
Playtime: 15 minutes, multiple playthroughs, 2 endings, 1 game ending bug
Artistic/Technical rankings: Mechanical/Intrusive
Would Play Again? No, experience seems complete
Artistic scale: Bouncy, Mechanical, Sparks of Joy, Engaging, Transcendent
Technical scale: Unplayable, Intrusive, Notable (Bugginess), Mostly Seamless, Seamless
- Mr. Patient (Saint Paul, Minn.), November 20, 2022
- OverThinking, November 16, 2022
- Karl Ove Hufthammer (Bergen, Norway), November 15, 2022
- Vivienne Dunstan (Dundee, Scotland), November 11, 2022
2 people found the following review helpful:
A short Twine game with lots of worldbuilding, short time, October 27, 2022
The name of this game comes from the fact that you have 5 remaining hours and each big action or scene takes up one.
This is a short Twine game, but it seems like it has the worldbuilding for a much larger story. There is an ancient, near-immortal Shogun (named (Spoiler - click to show)Charlie????) that enslaves and tortures special people who have Curses.
A weird apparition gives you a weapon to fight the Shogun (from searching, the weapon may be inspired by Sword Art Online). You can have various fights, or just remember all the deaths in your life and give up, etc.
The game feels a bit rushed or unfinished, with lots of plot threads left hanging and some little bugs (an option near the end wouldn't let me click it, for instance).
Overall, I think this just needs more time in the oven. The slavery in the game doesn't really seem to serve a purpose besides being a shorthand for suffering.
- jaclynhyde, October 21, 2022
4 people found the following review helpful:
Haphazard and buggy, didn't enjoy it, October 14, 2022
In this choice-based game you play a soldier during the Shogun era of Japan (I think? It mentions Shoguns, but also your name is Jack) that includes among the armaments of the time: bows and arrows, swords and guns. And magic, don't forget the magic. Mortally wounded on the battlefield, though apparently to you it just feels like a flesh wound, an apparition appears before you and asks you to undertake a very short quest (you'll be dead by dawn they say) to assassinate the evil Shogun of your state.
What happens next? Its hard to tell. Forgive me for saying so, but the story feels like the ones I wrote as a 10-year old. I would write a sloppy, but moderately coherent page each day, then they next day when I came back to writing, whatever idea had popped into my head overnight would be the next part of the story, whether it flowed or not. There was more than once after I got to the end of one of the lengthy pages that I made a choice and was just bewildered by what happened next. It didn't seem to flow at all.
The writing and formatting are sloppy, the few choices available to you don't make sense all the time, or lead down very dissatisfying paths, and there are a few coding bugs in the game. I could say more but it would just be piling on.
- Cerfeuil, October 11, 2022
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